The analogy of the church as a body does so many good things, but there are numerous other ways to think about our relationships. We are also a family, brothers and sisters, and we are an outpost of heavenly citizens on earth.
When we think about “members” as body parts, we affirm our appreciation of and need for one another. When we think about “members” as fellow citizens serving the Lord of heaven, we affirm His calling and acceptance of one another. So church discipline doesn’t use the body analogy; we don’t amputate parts. In discipline situations we do use kingdom terminology; we nullify our affirmation for those in ongoing, unrepentant sin who refuse to listen to the church.
As a local church we’ve reached the fourth stage with three persons that we had previously recognized as members. We’ve also reached the third stage with two other men, the stage at which their names have been announced to the church but not yet the stage at which we will no longer affirm their profession of faith.
None of our pastors have ever been part of a church that also announced to the church when the third stage was over. This would not mean going back to the second stage, or even the first. It is being finished with discipline, even if the stages progressed more quickly in a returning unwillingness to repent.
But we want to be more careful and more clear with our communication. In a sermon in February I outlined some practices that we are still working to implement. That includes praying by name for those who are in stage three of discipline at least once a month during our corporate supplication. It also means that, though there is no fixed timeline, we need to decide when someone either moves to the fourth stage or is out of the discipline process altogether, and make that explicit to the church.
At such times we will reaffirm that they are part of Christ’s flock, and that should remind everyone that the only reason any of us share communion is because the Lord died, rose again, and graciously invites us to partake of Him.